Agent/Author Etiquette

222221_10150272979930993_6771236_nYour phone chimes with that special notification that alerts you an agent has responded to one of your queries. (What? You don’t have an email account set up JUST for agent responses? You should! Just a tidbit: Did you know that there are many agencies that will boot out emails as spam from big free email groups like gmail, Hotmail and yahoo? But I digress…) So where were we? Oh yes the notifying chime! You hesitate to open it, knowing its just another rejection and you’re not in the mood today. After forcing yourself to look, you discover that….Holy Shmuckoly! It’s a full manuscript request.

After the initial lightheadedness and overall flushing of all your body parts you get right to work collecting your manuscript and reading over it one more time at lightening speed for any refining that needs to be done. You resist, with all that is in you, making major changes in the first three chapters and tell yourself now is no time for self doubt. Finally, you hit the SEND button followed by the strong urge to wretch. Oh, Lord was everything perfect?  If it’s not, too late now.

The rush of the whole experience lingers for a day or two and then the questions overtake you like a swarm of killer bees.

Questions1. How long should I wait before nudging?

A nudge is reserved for specific situations. An author should never use a nudge for a query submission. Most agents (if I were more daring I would say all agents) have information on their website that let submitters know how long they can wait for a reply. Some agents state upfront they will not respond to queries which do not interest them and that a no response can be considered a rejection. If an agency states that, after a lack of response within a certain amount of time, you can resubmit then do so but do not nudge.  In my opinion, it’s good practice to send your manuscript with a short respectful note inquiring about what sort of time frame you can expect to hear back from them. Generally they will reply with a time frame of about 6-8 weeks and give permission to follow up after that time period. Nudges should be used only when agents have requested your material and have exceeded the time they initially told you it would take to look at the work or an acceptable amount of time to review the MS.

2.What is the best way to follow up with an agent?

Again, dare I say all agents, prefer email. A simple reply to the initial request is sufficient via email. Then just find something to distract you for the next 6-8 weeks while they do their thing.Many agents have twitter accounts now that you can follow and they often host “Ask The Agent” forums where they answer FAQ’s by authors. Generally though, I wouldn’t inquire with an agent about a query on twitter. Use their email for that. Following agents on twitter can be informative, however. I follow agents on Twitter who post when they have made it through their query piles and that if you haven’t heard back from them to resubmit. So, if you have submitted a query to an agent, it’s a great idea to follow them on Twitter. I said FOLLOW, don’t stalk….that’s just pathetic and creepy.

3. Should I give an exclusive if asked?

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Exclusives should rarely be given. If authors granted exclusives every time we submitted we would be published at the ripe old age of 103. Now if an agent asks for an exclusive while reading your manuscript, and he/she is your DREAM AGENT,  it might be in your best interest if you only granted it for a short time period.  For instance, you might say I’ll grant exclusivity for 2 weeks in which I will not submit to, or make a commitment to, any other agents. This ensures a swift response for you and does not lock up your manuscript so that you miss out on an opportunity for representation by another agent in the process.

4. Why did the agent ask if other agents were considering my work?

Agents want to know if your work is being considered by other agents so they know how to place it in the slush pile. If you are being seriously considered by other agents then the agent might make an effort to look at yours sooner to avoid losing an opportunity to represent the novel. Make sure you don’t tell an agent your novel is being considered unless it truly is though. Integrity is a huge part of the relationship between author and agent and if you are eventually represented by the agent you don’t want that uncomfortable white lie coming between you.

5. Is it a bad thing if more than one agent is looking at my work?

Simple answer. No. Agents don’t hold it against you if your work is being looked at by other agents. That’s the nature of the business and it only shows you have an interesting story. Just be sure to COMMUNICATE WITH THE AGENTS! Tell them that your work is being considered by other agents so they can plan accordingly. And if you receive an offer of representation in the meantime, notify agents so they know to stop looking at your work OR to finish reviewing it so they have a shot at it too. It’s okay for you to tell an agent you need time to think and notify other agents that you are considering them for representation.

6. And finally, what if you send the manuscript along with a short message asking when you might hear back and after a week receive no response? Should you resend?

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What are you looking at me like that for? Oh! You think I have the answer. No, this question is for you! I’ve read  it is important to respond with a bold message in the subject line that says something about REQUESTED MANUSCRIPT. Of course, I read this after I sent the email and merely replied to the initial email. I have a tendency to over think things. Perhaps your thoughts on the issue will ease my mind. So take it away.

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DO YOU KNOW YOUR GENRE?

386558_10150591178055993_62231348_nYou are a  door to door salesperson who sells vacuums. Finally, after months of having doors slammed in your face, a potential buyer stands in the doorway long enough to ask you a question. “What kind of vacuum is it?” You hem-haw and squirm because you really don’t know so you just spout off the most popular vacuum type you can think of. “It’s a zero-turn-radius, bagless, cyclone chamber with scented filters.” When really it’s one of those old models that looks like  a set of bagpipes. What does the potential client who you could have made enough off of to not  have to sell another vacuum for a whole month do? He slams the door in your face, of course.

Our manuscripts can be just as difficult to sell (not that any of or work is like a bagpipe vacuum cleaner, I should hope) and finding a genre our manuscripts fit into to market them can be even more difficult. However, without the proper packaging, you can have an amazing product but never move it off the shelf. Face it, most of us buy name brand just because it looks more trustworthy. It would be nice if we could just go without picking a genre and just let our work speak for itself  but in the world of publishing there is no such thing as No Genre Bob.

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The last writer’s conference I attended had a “Read the Slush Pile” event, as many do. Three agents sat on a panel while someone read the first five pages of our manuscripts to them. When they didn’t want to hear anymore they raised their hands and the reader ceased. Then the agents told why they would have stopped reading that particular piece if it were in their slush pile. It was very informative and helped me to better develop my first chapter. But one of the main reasons they stopped reading was when an author incorrectly billed a piece as a certain genre. At first I thought they were just being picky but they explained their reasons for this.

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The first reason was that a writer should know their genre. If they don’t, the agent can already see that working with this author may consume a little more time than they have available. The second reason why agents say writers bill their work as a genre that it is not, is because they are scared their work falls under a dead category and think if they bill it as something else it will seem more appealing. The fact is:

You have a better chance at getting an agent’s attention with your work under its true genre (even if the genre isn’t so hot right now) than you do if they start to read it and find out it’s not what you claimed it was-no matter how good your work is.

That doesn’t mean agents are uppity or snide. It just means that, like you and I, they like to get the product they are told they are getting. So, knowing your genre is the key. I remember flipping out when I heard the agents respond that way because I had pitches scheduled with them the following day and I wasn’t prepared to commit to a genre at that point. What would I do if they put me on the spot? I stayed up for hours in my hotel room researching different genres and comparing my story to others that have already been marketed under certain labels. It was hard because one of the agents I was pitching to wasn’t particularly fond of the category my manuscript seemed to be consistently falling into with my research. I had to be straight forward with her and she asked me to send her a partial!

There are some great resources out there for pinpointing your genre. 

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First, start by reading lists of genres and weed out the ones that don’t apply. Sometimes books fall into multiple categories like YA/Science Fiction/Romance, so  don’t try to narrow it down to just one yet. Make sure the list you are looking at is up-to-date. Some genres are called by different names than they used to be and there are new ones, like NA (New Adult), that are added to the list. Here are a few good lists to start with: List Of Fiction Genres and Bubble Cow’s Genre List. You may have to piece a few lists together to get a complete list. As you can see, NA is not even described on these lists yet because it is so new.

Then once you’ve narrowed it down to a few genres, start looking at books that are similar to yours. This is a good practice anyway because most agents are going to want you to compare your book to something that is already on the market. While most of us would like to think our book is one of a kind that’s not always a good thing. People like to read things similar to what they’ve already enjoyed. We naturally choose by comparison. So look at other books that compare to yours and see what genre they fit into.

It’s not an easy process. It’s like choosing a label for your child. You, young one, will forever be known as a…carpenter or psychologist or mother or construction worker. It’s tough stuff but we can do it! Anybody else out there struggle with labeling your baby?